Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
We great each other this morning with the usual custom of Christian throughout time. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we have been looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and see how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. This morning we conclude our series by stepping back a bit to the Nunc Dimittis.
On Good Friday we moved back to the beginning of our service, as you recall our service usually begins with an invocation followed by our confession of sins and God’s Word of absolution on us, that is His forgiving our sins. In following our divine service it was fitting that on Good Friday, the day in which we commemorate the death of our Savior for our sins, that we were reminded of our sin and the very reason Jesus was born, lived, suffered and died, because of our sins. Thus it was fitting that we are reminded of this means of grace of Confession and Absolution.
This morning as the Sun rose we completed our service as we addressed the final blessing of the service, the Benediction and in particular, the Aaronic Benediction as it is called. This morning we move back a bit in the service to those words we say and sing following our participation in the Lord’s Supper, that is the Nunc Dimittis, or the Now Dismiss, the song of Simeon after seeing the baby Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World.
The Nunc Dimittis or now dismiss is the song of Simeon. Perhaps you remember the historic account. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth then on the fortieth day after His birth Mary was able to go to the temple in order to offer the sacrifice for redeeming the first born son, the sacrifice of a lamb, or in the case of Mary and Joseph if a lamb could not be afforded two Turtle Doves or two young pigeons could be offered.
Before Mary and Joseph came to Jerusalem, in a dream the Lord had told the priest, Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed, that is the Messiah which means anointed one, the one promised by God in the Garden of Eden and reiterated throughout Israelite history, the one who would save the world. Also we are told that Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit to enter the temple at the same time that Mary and Joseph entered the temple, not a coincidence, but the unseen hand of God bringing this event to fruition. As Simeon sees the child he takes Him in his arms and speaks the words of which we are quite familiar, the words which we sing following our dinning at the Lord’s Table and seeing our Lord, His body and blood in the bread and wine at His Holy Supper. Simeon says, “29Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation 31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
In our Divine Service, we have heard the word of the Lord and have followed through from God’s promise to His fulfillment in sending our Messiah, our Christ, our Savior, Jesus. We have been reminded of our Baptism. We have confessed our sins, placing them on Jesus, the spotless lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, and heard the most beautiful words in the world, that is that God has pronounce that our sins are forgiven. We have entered into His presence singing, chanting, speaking back to Him the very words that He has given us to say.
We have seen the Lord’s life in His Holy Word. In our liturgy, in the readings from the Old Testament, the Epistles and the Gospel we have witnessed Jesus perfect conception, His perfect life, His fulfillment of all God’s laws as well as all His prophecies. He have heard His Word proclaimed and as it has been proclaimed, so it is, that is His Word gives what it says and does what it says. We have confessed our faith in Jesus, even in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have offered our prayers and will offer our offerings, giving back to the Lord from what He has first given to us as an acknowledgment of gifts received.
As we prepare for His Holy Supper we are reminded of Jesus perfect suffering, suffering eternal spiritual death for us, hell for us in our place. We are reminded of Jesus perfect death once for all. And we are reminded of Jesus perfect resurrection so that death and the grave no longer have any power over Him, nor us.
As we prepared to come to His Holy Supper we prepare ourselves to come and taste His body and blood so that as we participate in this most sacred act, this Passover sacrifice fulfilled in Christ we are reminded that as we eat the bread we partake of the sacrifice of His body on the cross so that His sacrifice becomes ours as He becomes a part of us. And as we partake of the wine we partake of the blood of the lamb poured out on us to mark us as redeemed by Christ the crucified so that the angel of eternal spiritual death has no power over us.
Indeed, as we come to His table to partake of this Holy Sacrament, this Holy Mystery we marvel at how our Lord can give to us, through these simple ordinary means of bread and wine all the gifts and blessings He has to give. We might marvel at the love our great God has for us. So that as we partake, His life, suffering, death and resurrection have been made ours.
And then, following our being fed at His Holy table, having seen the Lord in His Holy Meal, having tasted that the Lord is good, we are then ready to be dismissed, that is we are, as Simeon was, ready to die and go to heaven to be with the Lord forever. That is the meaning, that is what we speak when we speak the Nunc Dimittis, the now dismiss. We have witnessed our Lord, His life, His suffering, His death, His resurrection, His giving us all the gifts and blessings He has to give. We have witnessed how our Divine Service points to and lays out all of history, all of Scripture that points to Jesus.
I pray that as we have followed through the Divine Service over the past seven weeks that you have come to appreciate our liturgy even more. I pray that you have come to see that our liturgy is not really an adiaphora, that is something that is neither commanded nor forbidden, rather that it is the Word of God, given to us by God in such a way that it not only declares to us the Biblical account of history and its fulfillment in Jesus, but also that it gives and bestows the gifts it speaks to us. Indeed, as we believe and confess so we worship and as we worship so we believe and confess, these go hand in hand. We know we believe, teach and confess what our sister congregations believe, teach and confess when there is likeness in how what is believed is acted out especially in the Divine Service. To say that another way, we should be able to tell if we are in a sister Lutheran congregation simply by their worship. I have seen clips of congregations in other parts of the world where they speak a different language, but I can know that it is a sister Lutheran congregation simply by hearing. Thus, if we all do believe, teach and confess the same doctrine of God, then we should probably look a lot alike in how we practice what it is we believe. And the liturgy we have, which has been passed down from generation to generation is a liturgy that has its roots back since the time of the apostles, and even before, even to the giving of the first ceremonial laws given to the children of Israel by God Himself in Leviticus, with the filled liturgy what we have today.
Our Divine Service and liturgy are not contemporary, that is with time, or said another way, they are not a fad, something here today and gone tomorrow. Our Divine Service and liturgy transcends time so that it is for all times. Our Divine Service and liturgy transcends generations, cultures, and forms because it is its own unique form. So, every Sunday morning we give up our favorite style and take part in what has been given and passed down through many generations and many cultures. And most certainly we find much unity in this uniting of our hearts and voices together.
Our God is a God of love and good order. He created all things perfect and humanity has since that time continued to mess up what God has given and yet, even though He knew that all this would happen He still created us. And now His desire is to continue to love us and to give to us all the gifts and blessings He has to give, through the very means He has given to give us those gifts and blessings. Our Divine Service is our expression of our confession of faith as well as the place where we are given the gifts of God. The more we know about our liturgy and Divine Service, its origins and history, its unique way of pointing us to Jesus, the more we rejoice and give thanks to God for this great and wonderful gift. As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord on this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the fulfillment of all that God has promised. We celebrate how all of history and all of Holy Scripture, even how our liturgy points to this time and we give thanks. We worship a living God who gives us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give because of His great love for us. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
We great each other this morning with the usual custom of Christian throughout time. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we have been looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and see how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. There are yet two parts of the service we have yet to discuss and we will discuss them out of order. In our late service we will discuss the Nunc Dimittis and in this service we will discuss the conclusion of the service with the benediction.
On Good Friday we moved back the beginning of our service, as you recall our service usually begins with an invocation followed by our confession of sins and God’s Word of absolution on us, that is His forgiving our sins. In following our divine service it was fitting that on Good Friday, the day in which we commemorate the death of our Savior for our sins, that we were reminded of our sin and the very reason Jesus was born, lived, suffered and died, because of our sins. Thus it was fitting that we are reminded of this means of grace of Confession and Absolution.
This morning as the Sun rises we actually go to the end of our service and the final blessing, the Benediction. Again, in our regular morning service we will address the Nunc Dimittis, or the now dismiss, Simeon’s song.
The Benediction is the final blessing of the service. Just as the Lord’s name was put on us, just as we invoked or invited the Lord to be with us, just as we were reminded of our Baptism and entrance into the Holy Christian Church at the beginning of the service with the invocation, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” now here at the end of the service we have the three-fold blessing of Aaron, Moses’ brother, being pronounced on us, “24The Lord bless you and keep you; 25the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:245-26). Notice the three-fold use of God’s name, Yahweh, Lord. The final blessing is the Lord’s gifts to us, His blessings and keeping us in His care and protection, His face shining on us, watching over us and being gracious to us and His looking on us in order to give us peace.
So, as we have been following along in our divine worship service, all along we have been given the gifts of God. At the invocation we were reminded of our baptism and the fact that God’s name has been put on us so that He has claimed us and we are His. We were also reminded that in Baptism He has given us faith, forgiveness and eternal life so that our names are written in the book of life and heaven is ours.
We have confessed our sins, all our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission and commission, even those sins of which we are unaware. We have placed those sins at the altar, on Jesus and have, through the word of the Pastor, heard His word of forgiveness. This forgiveness being poured out on us enabled us to move boldly into His presence through the introit.
We have heard the word of the Lord both through the words of the liturgy as well as through the Scripture readings, usually an Old Testament reading, an Epistle reading and the Gospel reading. We have heard the word of the Lord through the hymns we sing and through the preaching of that very Word of God.
We have seen the Lord’s life through the Word and we prepared ourselves to see His life in His Holy Supper. Indeed in the Lord’s Supper we witness Jesus’ perfect life, that is that there was no sin in Him. He was conceived and born in perfection. He lived His life in perfection. He fulfilled all God’s commands, perfectly. He fulfilled all God’s promises, perfectly.
In the Lord’s Supper we have witnessed Jesus perfect suffering. Having lived the perfect life Jesus then took all our sins upon Himself. He who had no sin became sin for us. And He suffered. He suffered the death penalty, the price for sin, “the wages of sin is death,” He suffered hell for us in our place.
And in the Lord’s Supper we have witnessed Jesus perfect death. All the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, were paid for by Jesus suffering and death on the cross. And Jesus died. Yes, our God, in Jesus died. He died like you and I will die. When He died His body was placed in the ground and His soul separated from His body whereupon He went to proclaim victory over death and the devil. And yet, we know the rest of the story, we know how the story ends. And please forgiven me, but this is not just a story, for our Lord and His story are events that are ground in history, thus they are indeed provable facts. Jesus did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead victorious over sin, death and the devil. Other world religious leaders have grave sites, not so with Jesus, there is no grave, nor burial place for Him, because He rose from the dead. And His resurrection was witnessed by many people for forty days following His resurrection.
As we have witnessed Jesus perfect resurrection, we now come to His table wherein we taste His body and blood in His holy sacrament. As we pointed out, just as the one bringing the sacrifice partook of that sacrifice, so we who have put Jesus on the cross, come to partake of His body and His blood in His Holy Supper. Our participation is that we come and are given His body to eat and His blood to drink so that His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect death becomes our perfect death. And His perfect resurrection and eternal life become our perfect resurrection and eternal life.
Following our partaking of our Lord’s body and blood in His Holy meal, we are moved to sing the song of Simeon, the song he sang after seeing and blessing the baby Jesus. Simeon had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed so when he did see Jesus, he was indeed ready to die, but more on that in the late service.
In the divine worship service we follow the life of our Lord. In the liturgy of the Divine Service we see what we believe as we act out what we believe. In the liturgy of the Divine Service we learn what we profess and we confess what we believe. In the liturgy of the Divine Service we speak back to God the very words He has given us to say and so we know they are the best words because they are His Words. In the liturgy of the Divine Service our Lord takes our law words and makes them His Gospel Words. And so, in the liturgy of the Divine Service we are given the gifts that He has to give through the very means He has given to give us His gifts, the means of grace, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper. In the liturgy of the Divine Service God gives and we respond with hymns and songs, and offerings and prayers. There is no confusion of Law and Gospel. There is no confusion of justification and sanctification. There is no pointing to ourselves. There is always and only pointing to Jesus. We sin, He forgives. We struggle, He gives strength.
This morning as we celebrate our Lord’s fulfillment of all His promises, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, as we celebrate sins forgiven, we celebrate with all joy and confidence of our eternal salvation. And as we reach the end of the service and as we are getting ready to go out into the world, into our various vocations we are given our Lords’ blessing so that we are able to go out into the world and live a life pleasing to Him. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Friday, March 25, 2016
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we have been looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. We have been following along with the parts of the Divine Service as they are in the hymnal however we have omitted one part which we take up today and that is Confession and Absolution. I felt that this part of the Divine Service was quite fitting as this is Good Friday, the day our Lord gave His life on the cross because of our sins so that as we confess our sins we rejoice in the forgiveness He has earned and paid for, for us.
Last night we looked at the words of the Lord’s Supper and connecting it to the Passover which is what Jesus was celebrating with His disciples. This evening we will move back to the beginning of our service, as you recall our service usually begins with an invocation followed by our confession of sins and God’s Word of absolution on us, that is His forgiving our sins. In following our divine service it is indeed fitting that on this Good Friday, the day in which we commemorate the death of our Savior for our sins, that we are reminded of our sin and the very reason Jesus was born, lived, suffered and died, because of our sins. Thus it is fitting that we are reminded of this means of grace of Confession and Absolution.
As we make profession in the fifth chief part of the catechism, confession embraces two parts, the first part is that we confess our sins. We might inquire that if God already knows our sins, then why would there be a need for us to confess? We confess our sins so that we acknowledge our part in Jesus’ suffering, so that we acknowledge and admit that we have sinned and for the simple fact that to not confess our sins is to refuse the forgiveness that is pronounced upon our confession. As we confess in our liturgy, “8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Indeed, if we do not think we have sinned, if there is nothing for which we need to repent and confess, then there is no need for forgiveness.
So, the first part of confession is that we confess our sins and the second part is absolution that is that we are absolved, forgiven of all our sins, and really not just those we confess. Unfortunately, too often some of us have a hard time with this absolution part as well. For not only can we refuse forgiveness by not confessing our sins, but we can also refuse forgiveness by not believing that our sins are forgiven and we do that, not believe our sins are forgiven by continuing to dwell on those sins and continuing to confess them even though they have already been forgiven, indeed cast as far as the east is from the west, forgotten by God, forgiven by Jesus. So the devil would tempt us to believe we have no sin and when we do confess he would tempt us to believe that God could not and would not forgive such sins. And so this is why we live by faith and not by sight, this is why we do not trust our emotions because too often we may not feel very forgiven or very saved, yet that is when we kick our minds into gear and we know, because God has told us so in His Word, which does what is says and gives the gifts of which is speaks, and indeed as God has pronounced to us through the mouth of the pastor, we know that as God has spoken, so our sins are forgiven. Nothing more needs to be done.
Now, to suggest that there is a third part of confession, that is to suggest that one needs then to make satisfaction for sins, as some do, this making of satisfaction simply stated means that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough and that now there is something that I must do to earn forgiveness. This thought process brings several problems such as, if sins are forgiven then there is nothing more which needs to be done because there is no more sin. Of course we have Jesus’ word that He died, once for all and that His death was sufficient for us. We also have the difficulty of the fact that just as a drowning person cannot save himself and if he could he would not be drowning, so we who are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins cannot make ourselves alive because if we could we would not be dead. So we understand that there are only two things that are necessary, one is that we confess and two is that we are given absolution, the forgiveness of sins and we rejoice and give thanks because that is all that is necessary.
Why do we confess? We confess because we are compelled, not by the law, but by the Gospel to confess. Remember the purpose of the law it so show our sins and that is what the law does, it shows us our sins and just how sinful we truly are. The law is like a mirror showing how we have not kept any of the Ten Commandments. The law is rule measuring how far we have gone astray from God’s will. The law is a curb keeping us on the straight and narrow or at least attempting to, but please know this, the law does not move us to confess. If anything the law may lead us to works righteousness that is it may lead us to think we can earn forgiveness, that is that we might be good enough, or we might do some good things that will counter the bad things we do, but the question then is before us, “Have we done enough and how would we know?” Indeed there are those who would tell you that you can be the person God wants you to be, but if that were true then we would have no need for God and thus we would be lost and condemned persons.
If the law does not lead us to self-righteousness it might lead us to despair. We would despair because we might imagine that we have sinned so badly that there is no way that God could forgive us and so we would simply give up hope, denying forgiveness because we cannot believe that our sins are forgiven, such as was the case with Judas. He did not believe Jesus could forgive him and so he was condemned. Again the purpose of the law is to show our sins and that is what it does and it does so quite well.
On the other hand, the Gospel shows our Savior and leads us to confess. The Gospel announces, tells us, all that Jesus has done for us and given to us. The Gospel proclaims forgiveness and indeed as it proclaims so it is. Thus, to not confess would mean gift refusal, but to confess means gifts given, gifts received. Thus, it is when we know that our sins are already forgiven that is what leads us to confess our sins.
I have used this illustration before and I will use it again this evening because I believe it explains confession and absolution quite well. Mrs. Smith passed out a new box of crayons to all the children in the class. She told them to be careful, to not push to hard so they would not break their new crayons. As the class began coloring, little Johnny pushed too hard and broke his crayon. A little later Mrs. Smith told the children to put their broken crayons on their desk. Little Johnny, not wanting to get into trouble, placed the bottom part of his crayon in the box and the top part on top. No one would be the wiser he thought.
A little later Mrs. Smith came around the classroom, picked up the broken crayons and gave the children new crayons. All the children received new crayons except little Johnny who refused a new crayon by not confessing that he had broken his crayon. The same is true with forgiveness, when we fail to confess our sins, we refuse God’s forgiveness.
Now, if Mrs. Smith had begun by telling the students that she was going to give them new crayons for broken crayons, little Johnny may have been motivated to confess that he had broken his crayon. Here we see that repentance is motivated, not by the law, but by the Gospel. It is the Gospel message that we have forgiveness, already earned by Jesus that motivates us to repent. And with repentance is forgiveness, life and salvation.
This evening as we recount Jesus’ perfect life, His taking our sins upon Himself, His suffering the complete punishment for our sins, eternal spiritual death, and His dying on the cross for us and because of us, we are moved to confess, it is I who put Him on the cross and we know for certain also that even if I were the only person in the world, Jesus would have given His life for me because of His great love for me. And so we do confess, and so we do hear His words of love and forgiveness, “your sins are forgiven.” Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we have been looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. So far we have moved steadily through the Divine Service as we have it in the hymnal having skipped Confession and Absolution which we will take up tomorrow and the Lord’s Supper which we will fittingly take up today.
Last week we moved on in the divine service to the offertory and the preface for the service of the Sacrament. The offertory is that word of God that is spoken, sung or chanted as the offerings of God’s people are presented and as the Lord’s Table is prepared for the people of God. The preface are those words which prepare us for the words of institution and our reception of our Lord’s Holy Supper. Last week we began looking at the words of this Holy Meal and connecting it to the Passover which is what Jesus was celebrating with His disciples. This evening we want to continue with that connection and as we do we will come to understand that this meal, this supper is not simply an act of obedience, an acting out of what Jesus did, but indeed this is a most sacred act, even a sacramental act that is an act which is filled with the mysteries of God, the mystery of how He uses the common ordinary means of bread and wine and through these means gives to us the gifts and blessings He has to give.
In the divine service, the Words of Our Lord as they are called are what we call a conflation of the four readings in which we are told of Jesus giving us His Holy Supper, that is they are a “combining,” if you will, of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. What we hear as the words of institution is this: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is my body,” which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me. In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you, cup is new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
So, what is this thing the Lord Jesus is giving to us? Again let me remind you that Jesus was celebrating the Passover Seder with His disciples, for the last time. The Passover Seder was that meal, that celebration that God gave to Israel to celebrate the passing over of the angel of death as they were freed from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. As you might recall, they were to select a lamb, a spotless lamb; slaughter the lamb, catching some of the blood; put the blood on the door post and the lintel of the door, in essence making the sign of the cross, so that when the angel of death would pass over the land of Egypt all those in the houses marked by the blood of the lamb would be passed over and the first born would live. The lamb was to be cooked and eaten with the people dressed and ready to exit Egypt. After their exit the Lord gave Israel this celebration as a yearly celebration so they might be reminded of God’s rescue of His people, except that now they could celebrate in a more relaxed manner.
During the meal several important things happened, including the children asking questions which were answered by the father or the head of the family. At the beginning of the celebration three pieces of matzah bread are placed in a burse that is a bag with three compartments, however the middle piece of matzah was broken in half so that only half was placed in the burse while the other half was tucked away, hidden so to speak. Now, if you have never seen matzah bread or do not know what it is let me describe it for you. Matzah bread is very much like a large unsalted cracker. It is unleavened bread, that is bread without yeast. It has holes in it so that it does not expand and burst. It also has char marks on it from being cooked on a grill or griddle. During the Passover Seder celebration different foods are eaten as a reminder of what the Israelites went through as slaves in Egypt. Bitter herbs are eaten, parsley dipped in salt water is eaten as a reminder of the tears of labor, as well as the lamb is eaten. Also there are four cups of wine that are consumed during the meal. All parts of the meal are intended to be instructive and a reminder to the children of Israel of God’s grace and favor. It was while Jesus was celebrating this meal for the very last time with His disciples that He took from the meal and gave them and us something new, something better, something which gives us the fullness and the fulfillment of that first Passover.
Now, before I speak of Jesus’ meal, let me remind you of the ceremonial laws and sacrifices of the Old Testament. You may remember that a person would bring a lamb, a spotless lamb for sacrifice. They would lay their hands on the lamb, in essence transferring their sins to the lamb. The lamb would be slaughtered, cooked and then eaten by the one who brought the lamb, thus in the eating of the lamb they were participating in its sacrifice for their sins. In essence the lambs death became a part of them. We also remember that these sacrifices really did nothing for earning or paying for forgiveness of sins, they only pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of the promised Savior and His work of earning and paying for our forgiveness. Now we fast forward to Jesus giving us the new sacrament from the one that pointed to it.
At one point in the meal, Jesus took bread, the middle matzah, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples with the words, “Take and eat, this IS my body.” Jesus did not say that the bread symbolized His body, nor did He say the bread was changed into His body. Jesus took the bread so that He had bread in His hand and He gave it to His disciples and told them they were to eat the bread that He was holding because the bread was, is, His body.
Jesus then took the cup of wine, the third cup of wine, the cup of redemption, blessed it and gave it with the words, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus did not say that the cup of wine symbolized His blood, nor did He say the cup of wine was changed into His blood. Jesus took the cup of wine so that He had the cup of wine in His hand and He gave it to His disciples and told them they were to drink the wine from the cup that He was holding because the cup of wine was, is, His blood.
In his account Luke tells us that Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In the conflation we hear these words, “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” This word remembrance is not what we think of when we think of remembering something today. Today to remember something might infer that this act is something that should be acted out as a way of being mindful of an important event, yet, still this would not evoke any kind of thought that it is our obedience to act out this event that would bring anything to us. No, rather this remembrance is a participation in what is happening. Just as in the Old Testament, one would eat the lamb to participate in the lambs sacrifice, so that is what is happening in this mystery, this sacred act, this sacrament that the Lord is giving us. When we eat the bread/body of Jesus and drink the wine/blood of Jesus we are participating in His sacrifice for us, so that His perfect life becomes our perfect life; His perfect death becomes our perfect death; His perfect resurrection becomes our perfect resurrection and His perfect eternal life becomes our perfect eternal life. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb was put on the door post and lintel of the door, making the sign of the cross and marking the house so the angel of death would pass over that house, so Jesus’ blood is on us marking us so that the angel of eternal spiritual death will pass over us.
At the Lord’s Supper Jesus was present, a spotless lamb. Jesus was perfect having been born in perfection and having never sinned, living a perfect life. Then Jesus took our sins, all our sins, and the sins of all people, of all places of all times and He was slaughtered, sacrificed for us on the cross, once and for all. And now He comes to us to offer us to eat of His true body and blood so that we are able to participate in His life giving sacrifice. We do this, that is we eat His body and drink His blood, not as an act of obedience, but as a response to His desire to give to us the gifts and blessings He has to give, thus this is a means of grace, a way in which our Lord gives to us the gifts and blessings He has to give, forgiveness of sins, faith and strengthening of faith, life and salvation. And so this sacred act, this mystery, this sacrament is just that a sacrament, a way in which God comes to us through the simply earthly things of bread and wine to give us all the gifts and blessings He has to give and so in faith we come to be given to and to rejoice and say, thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
I know I have explained this somewhat before, but a refresher is always good. Our pericopy system, that is our system of Bible readings that we hear every Sunday morning has been set many years ago. The readings that have been selected for each Sunday have been selected to express the current event of the church year as well as an attempt to make sure all the reading correlate or fit together. For many years the Gospel reading for this Sunday was actually the Palm Sunday Gospel that gave us the history of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, and the passion reading that we heard was read on Good Friday. Unfortunately as our society has moved away from having a great priority of being in service on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in order to have Easter be a truly resurrection celebration, the passion reading has been moved to the Sunday before Easter and we simply skip the Palm Sunday reading, after all, how can you celebrate Easter without Jesus’ passion? So, although our Gospel reading for this morning was the reading of what we call the passion of Christ, today is actually Palm Sunday. Today is also the beginning of Holy Week. Today we remember and even celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, for the last time. Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, that is He came to Jerusalem to do what He came to earth to do, to give His life, to die on the cross for us, for you and for me. With this as our backdrop, today we hear Paul’s encouragement, even his exhortation to have the attitude of Christ.
As we look at our text, the first thing I want to say about our text is that it is thought that this text may have been a part of an early Christian creed which was spoken during a worship service, similar to how we speak the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds. Our text begins by telling us about Jesus Christ, and specifically, about His attitude, Paul writes, “5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 5-6). Paul exhorts us to have the mind, that is the attitude of Jesus. So what is the attitude of Jesus?
The attitude of Jesus is that He is true God. He is true God with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world. He is true God and as true God He was enjoying all the glory that was due Him. He was in heaven where He freely used His divine attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and the like. He was in heaven being God, watching over us, ruling over us, taking care of us. He was in heaven enjoying the eternal bliss of heaven.
Yet, His attitude is what moved Him to give up all that was His in heaven. He gave up all the glory that was His in heaven in order to show how much He loved us, His creation. He gave up complete use of all His divine attributes, so that He did not always use His divine attributes and power nor did He always use them to their full potential. He did not heal everyone while He was on earth, nor did He cast out all demons or raise all the dead. He did use His divine power to some degree, healing some, raising some from the dead, and casting out some demons, but again, He did not always nor fully use His power as He could have. He gave up enjoying the eternal bliss of heaven. His attitude was that He gave all this up because of His love for us.
His attitude is that He humbled Himself. Paul continues at verse seven, “7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 7-8). Paul says, He made Himself nothing. Other translations say He emptied Himself, that is, He made a decision not to use His divine attributes to their fullest. Notice when He was tempted by the devil in the desert, He did not change the rock into bread. He did not jump off the temple. He did not bow down and worship the devil. Yes, He did use some of His divine attributes to some extent, but He did not always nor fully use them as He could, as God.
In His love for us He took on human flesh and blood. He was born as a human. He was born, humble and lowly, pretty much in obscurity. He had a manger for His bed. His parents were not wealthy or of seeming nobility, although He was born from the line of King David. He lived a rather obscure life. We do not hear anything about Him from birth until age twelve. Then we do not hear anything about Him until He reaches thirty and is ready to begin His earthly ministry. He was a human being and He showed Himself to be a human being. He was tired. He was thirsty. He had emotions. When His friend Lazarus died we are told that He wept. He walked wherever He went. He slept and ate. He was truly a human man, with a body and a soul, His own Godly soul.
His greatest humility is seen in this fact, that He humbled Himself to the point of death. He was obedient to the Father’s will. He lived a perfect life. He was perfectly obedient to the will of God the Father. He obeyed all the Law perfectly. He could have simply asked the Father to take Him to heaven. But, because that was not the reason He came to earth and because that was not His attitude, instead, because of His great love for us, He took all our sins upon Himself. He became sin for us. Not because He had too, but because He wanted to. He is our prophet, priest and king. As our priest He went to the altar to make sacrifices for us. As our Savior He became the sacrifice for us, in our place, once and for all, on the cross. He suffered the cruellest of deaths. He suffered the most humiliating and shameful of deaths. He suffered so that we might not have to suffer. He suffered so that we might have forgiveness and life.
After His suffering, Paul says, “therefore.” Therefore, He was exalted. We continue at verse nine, “9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v. 9-11). God exalted him so that now He is seated at the right hand of the Father. There, at the right hand of the Father, He has returned, to the place from where He came. There He is, interceding for us, praying for us, watching over us, ruling over us, guiding and directing our doings in this life.
There He enjoys all the glory that was His, that He had given up for us. And Paul tells us what John tells us in Revelation, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and in earth. All creation will bow before the Lord, both those who believe and those who do not believe. Yes, even non-believers will bow before the Lord on the day of judgement.
And, every tongue will confess, in heaven and in earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Again, Paul tells us the same thing John tells us in Revelation. The unbelievers will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There will be no way they can not make this confession nor any other confession. They will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and then will try to blame God for their own unbelief. The believers, the faithful Christians, we too will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We will gladly confess and then we will rejoice and sing praises to the Holy Name of the Lord.
So, what does this mean? What does this mean for us today? To answer that question perhaps we would do well to understand that our attitude is simply a reflection of what is in our heart and mind. In other words, how we live, how we act, how we speak and the like is a reflection of what is in our mind and heart. Thus, on a daily basis we encounter people who are angry, zealous, pious, cheerful, carefree, anxious, and the like. Very often our attitude is learned from past experiences and how we have reacted to those experiences. If our life has been a wonderful life with no difficulties perhaps we would have a very positive and cheerful attitude. Or, if we have experienced difficulties in life and have had difficult experiences we may have a negative or depressed attitude. Of course, the opposite of this may be true as well. If we have had a wonderful life with no difficulties we may still have a negative or depressed attitude and if we have had a difficult life we may yet have a positive and cheerful attitude. Our attitude depends on how we react to any given situation and reflects what is in our heart and mind.
As Paul tells us, so should our attitude be, that is we are to have the attitude of Christ. What was Christ’s attitude? His attitude was such that, because of His great love for us, He gave up everything for us. For us to have such and attitude would mean being willing to give up everything for Him, and for others. Which then begs the question, “Have we given up anything for Christ, lately?” Or, have we given up anything for anyone else, lately? And let me confirm you thinking, no, we do not do well at having the attitude of Christ. We tend to be self centered, self thinking, and the like, after all, that is our nature. Yet, Paul’s words are not intended to be such harsh law words. Rather Paul’s words are intended to be words of Gospel and they are Gospel words for the simple fact that it is because of the attitude of Christ that we have forgiveness, life and salvation.
For us, then, to take on the attitude of Christ is to understand and acknowledge Jesus Christ is Lord. To profess faith in Him. To desire to be the people He would have us to be, and to understand that it is only with His help that we can even attempt to be the people He would have us to be. Thus, to take on the attitude of Christ is to have the desire to grow in our faith and knowledge of Him. So, when it comes to knowing God, we confess that the more we learn about Him, the more we can see that there is so much more that we do not know about Him. And that reminds us that there is even more reason to continue on with our own instruction in God’s Word, continuing to be a part of divine service, Sunday morning Bible class, continuing to read God’s Word at home, and to have personal and family devotions, continuing to humbly learn and grow in faith, this is taking on Christ’s attitude.
Many churches have confirmation on this Sunday. Lord willing we will have confirmation on this Sunday next year. Perhaps you have a niece or nephew, cousin or friend who is being confirmed or know of someone being confirmed today. With that in mind, I would summarize this morning by reminding you of your own Confirmation. I would remind you of the vows you made at your confirmation, including the vow that very much reflects that attitude of Christ that is that you will remain faithful in faith, word, and action even to death. And so, as Paul encourages and exhorts us, so I encourage and exhort you, now is a time to continue in the attitude of Christ, to continue in living a life to the glory of God by continuing to be in the Word and partake of the Sacrament, and to be willing to give your life for Him as He has first loved you and given His life for you. May God grant you the will and the strength to live in such a way. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Offertory and Preface for the Service of the Sacrament - Lent Midweek Six - March 16, 2016 - Text: Psalm 116:12-13, 17-19; Psalm 51:10-12
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we have been looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. The parts of the service we have skipped so far are confession and absolution which we will take up on Good Friday and the Lord’s Supper which we will take up on Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
Last week we moved on in our divine service to our response to the Word of God we were given in the divine service, that Word of God which was read in the readings, the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings and that Word of God we were given in the sermon, that is our response of our offering our prayers as well as our first fruit tithes to the Lord. We made note that it was because we have been given the gifts of God that we are moved to respond to those gifts and blessings by bringing our prayers. Indeed, just as it is the Gospel and not the law that moves us to confess our sins, that is it is because we know our sins are forgiven that we are moved to confess our sins, and not the fear of the law which would only lead us to self-righteousness or despair, so it is the word of Gospel we have just heard that moves us to bring our prayers and petitions before our Lord. It is because we have heard the Word of the Lord that our sins are forgiven and that our Lord has so much He desires to give to us that we respond with our prayers and petitions. Certainly our prayers and petitions include our offerings of thanks and praise, but also prayers seeking God’s strength, comfort and all the gifts He has to give. Also, our prayers are offered not because God does not know what we need, but because of our need to acknowledge God’s gifts to us, in other words, God already knows our needs, our real needs, we pray so that we might acknowledge before God our needs and desires. It is because we have heard the Word of the Gospel that we sing our hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Indeed we made note that the best hymns are those hymns which express our doctrine, that is what we believe, teach and confess. And we made note that the giving of our first fruit tithes is indeed a matter of faith. Our offerings are our response of faith and are a reflection of our faith. Unfortunately too many people do not understand what our offerings truly are, that is they are a response of faith and a reflection of our faith. It is this returning of a portion that is a reflection of our faith, because the portion we return reflects whether or not we first acknowledge that what we have has been first given to us by God and then it tests our faith as to whether or not we believe the Lord will continue to pour out on us so generously.
This evening we move on in the divine service to the offertory and the preface for the service of the Sacrament. The offertory is that word of God that is spoken, sung or chanted as the offerings of God’s people are presented and as the Lord’s Table is prepared for the people of God. There are two offertories commonly used. The first is one which speaks of God’s preparing us for being given His body and blood in His Holy Meal, that is the offertory from Psalm 51, “10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Ps. 51:10-12). The other common offertory is the one recognizing the gifts that God gives and our response of faith from Psalm 116, “12What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? 13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. 17I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. 18I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, 19in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 116:12-13; 17-19).
During the offertory, as our offerings are presented we sing praises to the Lord. We acknowledge that all we have is a gift and benefit from God who gives first and we offer our pledge of sacrifice and testimony of our lives as lives saved by Jesus.
Following the offertory we move into our preparation for the Sacrament of the Altar. We great each other, pastor/host and gift recipient with a prayer of God’s presence, “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” Thus, the first word spoken to begin the Lord’s Supper is the name of the Lord. It is His Supper, the Lord’s Supper in name and in reality, not the supper of Christians. The Lord is serving and giving out His gifts. His gifts are given with the words that carry and give what they say. We are exhorted to lift up our hearts to God and we acknowledge our lifting them up, “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them to the Lord.” And we are exhorted to give thanks and we do give thanks, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” These words come by way of Jewish prayer as given in the great Shema, the “hear oh Israel” that God’s name is Lord God. He is present, welcomed, acclaimed and we are to give Him thanks. In Jewish prayers this invitation was used as a table prayer that blessed the gifts of God to the people of God.
We are prepared with a sentence of reflection of the season of the church year through what is called the Proper Preface and we respond with the Sanctus, Holy, Holy, Holy, and the Hosanna, the “save now.” A prayer of thanksgiving is offered pointing us once again to our Lord who is the host and the one giving the gifts through His Holy Meal.
We then speak back to God the very words He has given us to speak in the most perfect prayer, His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed as we are often exhorted with such human exhortations as the only real prayers are those that we make up from the heart, I would contend that the Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer because it is His prayer, He has given it to us to pray, I cannot make up any better prayer from my heart, and I know the Lord rejoices when we say back to Him the very words He has given us to say.
The pastor then speaks the words of institution, a conflation of the accounts of the last Passover of Jesus from which He gives us this holy supper, the accounts from Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Apostle Paul. During the Passover Jesus takes the middle matzah, the one that was broken and half hidden to be found at this moment in the Seder, the middle matzah of which the veiled eyes of the Jews cannot determine what it means, yet we understand the three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and this middle matzah is Jesus Himself, pierced, as the holes in the matzah, scourged so that by His stripes we are healed, as the matzah shows the burnt stipes, and broken as He was broken on the cross. Jesus took this middle matzah, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples telling them to take and eat this bread which is my body so that we know from His very words we are eating not something that has been changed into nor represents, but is His body. Thus, just as those who offered the ceremonial sacrifice ate of the sacrificed lamb, thus participating in the sacrifice, so we eat of the bread, the body of Jesus, thus participating in His sacrifice on the cross for us. Jesus then takes the cup of wine, the third cup, the cup of redemption, again offers a prayer of thanks giving and gives it to His disciples telling them to take and drink from the cup of wine, not something that has been changed into nor represent, but that is His blood. Again, as we eat His body and drink His blood we participate in Him. His life, His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect death becomes our perfect death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
Finally, before approaching the altar we confess what we are about to be given in the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. As John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” so we confess about Jesus as we approach to partake of the Lamb.
Following the supper we rejoice in words of thanksgiving, but even more appropriately the words of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, the now dismiss. Just as Simeon speaks of how he was ready to die because he had seen and held the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, so having partaken of Jesus’ body and blood, we are prepared to meet our Lord as well and to meet Him with all joy and confidence. And so, we have seen and bear witness to the fulfillment of what was promised in Eden and what was pointed to by all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
What is important? Unfortunately, it is often not until too late that people ask that question. It is often only at the time of the death of a loved one that we ask the question, what really is important in this life? The topic of what is important is such a big topic that there have been books written and movies made with the underlining theme talking about what the writer thinks is important. And interestingly enough, most books and movies come to the conclusion that the things in life that are most important are our relationships, and the least important thing is money. And even though we would probably agree that this is true, the way we live our lives very often actually shows the opposite. We spend more time engaging in things financial than we do in our relationships and we do so with the explanation (not excuse, but explanation) that we have to have money to live, to eat, to support our family and the like. Instead of our priorities being what we probably would like them to be and what we probably profess them to be, that is: #1 our relationship with our Savior; #2 our relationship with our spouse or family; #3 our relationship with the rest of our family and #4 our job and the like, the way we live our lives tends to show that our priorities are #1 putting in enough or too many hours at work to bring in enough money to pay for everything we need, or think we need, and want and to make sure that we have enough for retirement (don’t get me wrong, I do know that those things are important, but I think we tend to be like the rich man who put so much into tearing down the old barns and building bigger and better barns and then thought that tomorrow he would be concerned with his spiritual life); our #2 priority tends to be being busy with the things of this world, running here and there, running our children here and there to participate in all the social activities of this world; our #3 priority tends to be our relationship with our family and spouse or spouse and family and finally our #4 priority might be our own spiritual life. I know that I am speaking strong words of Law, but I think we should admit, except for a few rare exceptions, this is the way we human beings tend to be. If you do not believe me, then I challenge you to sit down and take an honest look at your life. Take time to look at your checkbook to see who gets the biggest percent of the money God has given you though your work. Think about how much time, out of the 168 hours in a week that God gives you, do you spend in all the activities in which you participate, including amount of time in prayer, reading the Bible, personal and family devotion, and in divine service and Bible study and in volunteer service to the Lord at His church. I think you might be surprised.
One of the reasons I bring this up this morning is again for the simple fact that we are in the season of Lent, the season we take the time to look at our lives, to look at our sins, and to see the seriousness of our sins and the fact that is was because of our sins that Jesus came to live, suffer, and die on the cross. The other reason I began this way this morning is because Paul talks about what is important in our text for today. He does not tell us in this text in particular, but we know that Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was well grounded in the faith of his fathers. He could have been a big person in the church. He could have been bringing in the big salary. Yet, he counts this all as loss, compared to his relationship with Jesus. As Paul says, “4bIf anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 4b-7).
Paul’s life might remind us of our own life. Maybe we have been educated in the most renown institutions, or at least we have had the opportunity to have completed high school, college and even earned a masters or doctorate degree. We may be seen as smart, wise and intelligent in the ways of this world, but what does that do for us when it comes to our relationship with Jesus? What is that worth if we have no relationship with Jesus?
Paul reminds us that the most important thing is this life is our relationship with Jesus. The most important thing in this life is our faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us. And that most important thing is not something we go out and get, rather it is a gift which God gives to us, at our Baptism or at our conversion. It is God who gives us faith, brings us to faith, strengthens us in faith and keeps us in faith.
God gives us faith and it is this faith that is the instrument that makes Jesus’ work our work. It is faith which makes Jesus’ life our life, Jesus’ death our death and Jesus’ resurrection our resurrection. As Paul reminds us, “8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 8-11).
All of this, God’s giving faith, God’s giving Jesus’ life for ours, God’s giving us eternal life is what we call justification. It is that we are justified, made “just as if I’d never sinned” in God’s eyes. And all of this living, suffering, dying and rising has already been completed. Jesus’ perfect life, suffering and death was enough, we do not have to do anything else, we do not have to suffer eternal death. We want to make sure that we have this clear. There is nothing we do to gain forgiveness and eternal life, it has all already been done for us and is ours by faith which is also given to us. To say that we have to do something extra in order to earn our forgiveness and heaven is to say that Jesus’ death was not enough, that His suffering was not for all people of all places of all times, that His suffering did not completely do what He said it would do. God tells us that Jesus’ suffering was complete and it was enough.
It is important that we understand that according to our being made just and right in God’s eyes, everything has been done for us and there is nothing that we can do. This is important because Paul goes on to tell us that we are to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of” us. And this is what we call sanctification. Paul continues, “12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 12-14).
Sanctification is doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Sanctification is that we do good works only as we are moved to do good works. In other words, we do not normally, of our own accord, do good works. Normally, as our Lord tells us, ever intention of our heart is evil all the time. Normally we refuse and reject the Lord and His gifts, staying away from divine service, Bible class and the like. Or, if we do good works, normally we do good works because of an ulterior motive, self recognition, or to get something in return. That is just our nature. True good works, good works of sanctification, good works that are good works in God’s eyes are those good works we do because God has moved us to do them.
Sanctification is also that we do good works only as the Lord helps us to do good works. Again, in and of ourselves we can do no good thing, at least not in God’s eyes. As Isaiah reminds us, in God’s eyes, even our good works, that is the good works we believe we do on our own, apart from God, are as filthy rags. A good work in God’s eyes is a work which is motivate by Him, worked in us by Him and is done to His glory.
Which brings us to the understanding that sanctification is that we do good works only as the good work we do is done to the glory of the Lord. So, as we can see, when it comes to good works that are truly good works, good works that are good works in God’s eyes, everything points away from us and instead, everything points back to God. He gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. He gives us good works to do, motivates us to do those good works, works them through us and we do them to His glory.
Paul uses the analogy of an athlete pressing on toward a goal. The goal for which we are heading is heaven. Interestingly enough, heaven is ours. It is a present reality. We may have to wait to move in, but it is ours now. And so we press on toward heaven.
Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, because of the faith which the Holy Spirit has given to us at our Baptism or conversion, we are no longer what we were before that is, we are no longer complete sinners. But at the same time we are not yet what we will be in heaven, that is complete saints. We are somewhere in the middle. We are at the same time sinner and saint. And this is what adds to our struggles in life. This sinner, saint-ness in each of us is what adds to our difficulty in determining what is important in life, and not only speaking Godly priorities, but also in living those priorities.
As we press on through this short life, our goal is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” As we go though life we tend to mess things up. Time and again we mess up. We get in the way of the Lord working in and through us, we refuse and reject the gifts He has to give by staying away from where He gives His gifts and at times we even become instruments of the devil working in and through us. Yet, the Lord continues to be our God. He continues to show us what a great God He is, what a loving God He is. He continues to grant us forgiveness. He continues to work through His Word to bring us forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith and life.
Getting back to the question of what is important?, I pray that the Lord will continue to work though His Word so that you can confidently says with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. We have been following along with the parts of the service in the order of our service but so far we have skipped our Confession and Absolution which we will take up on Good Friday and the Lord’s Supper which we will take up on Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
Two weeks ago we were reminded of one of the most important parts of the Divine Service which was one of the means of grace and that being the Word of God. We made note that our divine service liturgy is permeated with the Word of God as is noted in our Lutheran Service Book as all the parts of the liturgy are referenced to the Word of God. Last week we moved forward in our Divine Service to talk about our response to hearing the very Word of God and that was our confessing our faith in the words of the Creed. We were reminded that the Christian Church, and for that matter any person or church denomination that professes to be Christian might well confess the words of the three universal Christian Creeds; the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Indeed, anyone who cannot confess the words of these three creeds is truly not a Christian. This evening we move on in our divine service to another response to the Word of God we were given in the Divine Service, indeed what is a response of faith after hearing the Word of God and that is our offering back to God our prayers and our offerings.
Because we have been given the gifts of God, especially because we have been given the spiritual gifts of God including a strengthening of faith through His means of Grace, His Holy Word, we now are moved to respond to those gifts and blessings by bringing our prayers. Indeed, just as it is the Gospel and not the law that moves us to confess our sins, that is it is because we know our sins are forgiven that we are moved to confess our sins, and not the fear of the law which would only lead us to self-righteousness or despair, so it is the word of Gospel we have just heard that moves us to bring our prayers and petitions before our Lord. It is because we have heard the Word of the Lord that our sins are forgiven and that our Lord has so much He desires to give to us that we respond with our prayers and petitions. Certainly our prayers and petitions include our offerings of thanks and praise for all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has given to us, both physical, material blessings; food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land and animals, clothing, shoes, and on and on, but also we offer prayers seeking God’s strength, comfort and all the more spiritual gifts He has to give. Also, our prayers are offered not because God does not know what we need, but because of our need to acknowledge God’s gifts to us, in other words, God already knows our needs, our real needs, so we pray so that we might acknowledge before God our needs and desires.
As we acknowledge in the explanation to the second commandment we call upon our Lord’s name in the day of trouble, we pray, praise and give thanks. Our prayers are prayers seeking God’s aid and assistance especially in difficult times, and also we offer prayers of praise and thanks for all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has given to us.
We offer our prayers as a response of faith, a response to the Word which has given us the gifts of God, but we also respond with hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Our hymns are words which express the gifts God gives as well as give thanks for those gifts. Our hymns are words recounting what God has done, does and continues to do for us. Indeed, our hymns, our best hymns are those that speak the doctrine of our faith, what we believe, teach and confess.
And, because we have been given the gifts of God we are moved to respond by bringing our offerings. Our offerings are not a collection of alms for the poor. Our offerings are not an afterthought or what is left after I have used up what God has first given to me. Our offerings are not simply our pocket change. No, our offerings are our response of faith and are a reflection of our faith. Let me say that again because too many people do not understand what our offerings truly are, that is they are a response of faith and a reflection of our faith. Our offerings are truly faith driven. In other words, because our Lord gives to us first, that is He gives us life, gifts, talents and abilities, even a job or career, He gives us the wherewithal to support ourselves and our families, indeed, because He gives first and because He gives us all that we need, we respond by first returning a portion to Him. It is this returning of a portion that is a reflection of our faith, because the portion we return reflects whether or not we first acknowledge that what we have has been first given to us by God and then it tests our faith as to whether or not we believe the Lord will continue to pour out on us so generously, or whether we might look at ourselves and our assets and think that we need to keep a certain amount more lest we not make as much the next week.
In the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi explains it this way, 6“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:6-10).
What we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours. Indeed, nothing in this world is truly ours. Everything we have is on loan to us from the One who created it and lends it to us for use in service to Him while we are in this world. God’s ceremonial laws in the Old Testament required offerings to God in response to the blessings He had given to His people. Some offerings were offered as a reminder of one’s sin and that the price for sin was that blood had to be shed. Other offerings were offered as a response to the gifts and blessings the Lord had given to His people. These offerings were offered out of faith and yet, as Malachi warns, when we fail to return a portion, even a tithe, of that which has been first given to us by God, what we are doing is rejecting the gifts God has to give, which is the only option we have because of our inborn sinful nature, because our free will has been lost and tainted by sin.
We might think about it this way, as we are growing up our parents must teach us to say “Thank you,” when we are given a gift. That response of “Thank you,” is just that, a response and an acknowledgment of the gift that was given. To not respond would be a rude and impolite jester on our part. Yet, even before God, our lack of response is truly a rejection of the gift that was given. I have always wondered why people who continually reject the gifts God gives by absenting themselves from the very place where He gives His gifts, Divine Service and Bible class, why these same people then wonder why it seems to them that God is not blessing them, at least not in the way they think He should. Why would we not want to be where the gifts are given out and respond with thanks and praise and in faith return a portion, a tithe, of what He has first given, except that the devil is continually thwarting us.
Our offerings are a response of faith that God will continue to bless us and this is the only place in Scripture that we read that we are challenged to test God. And please understand that our testing of God is not a testing to manipulate Him, rather are testing is to test our faith and then to know for certain that all that we have is a gift from God and the more we return to Him, the more He has as gifts for us, for the simple truth is that we cannot out give God who gives all in the first place. Try it and see.
This evening, as we count our blessings, as we are reminded that God has done everything necessary for our salvation. God has given His only Son to live the perfect life we cannot, to take our sins upon Himself and to suffer and die to pay the price for our sins. Not only does our great and loving God give us the forgiveness He paid for, but He also gives us all the gifts and blessings He has to give according to our need, that is according to what He knows is best for us. Our response is just that, a response. Our response is to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
We are about half way through the Lenten Season. Let me remind you that the purpose of the Lenten Season is to take the time to contemplate our sins and the seriousness of our sins. We see how God views the seriousness of our sins when we look at the passion and the cross of Christ. So serious does God take our sins that Jesus suffered greatly for them. As we contemplate the passion of Christ certainly we contemplate that it was our sins, your sins and my sins that put Jesus on the cross.
Before we get to our text for this morning, let us take a brief look at the other lessons. The Old Testament lesson for this morning might rightly be considered an answer to the question of “how” we are to be ambassadors and that is by giving thanks to the Lord. And why do we give thanks to God, because of His salvation. Indeed, our sin makes God angry and yet, rather than take His anger out on us, He took it out on Jesus so that Jesus suffered God’s just punishment for our sins, for us in our place. Certainly we give thanks and praise to the Lord for His forgiveness and salvation.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is the account of the prodigal son. This account shows us what great love the father has for his son. Rightly we might put ourselves in either of the brothers shoes. Certainly we are the younger son when we squander the gifts our Lord has to give to us. But, more often than not, as “older” Christians, we are probably more like the older son. We have a difficult time accepting newer Christians into our congregation, because we believe, because of our perceived faithfulness, that we deserve more. Yet in both instances we see what great love the Father has for both His Sons and what great love our Heavenly Father has for us, His children.
Getting to our text for this morning we are reminded that all our good gifts and blessings are indeed gifts and blessings and all this is from God. We read, “16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (v. 16-19).
The word reconcile is an interesting word. And actually, it is a financial word. I have to admit, I never really thought much about the word reconcile, never even really used the word until I got my first computer checkbook and it asked if I wanted to reconcile my bank account. I never reconciled my account before, although I did attempt to balance my checkbook from time to time, as encouraged by my parents. The word reconcile means that one side of the equation must equal the other side. For my checkbook that means that the deposits must be equal to or be greater than the withdrawals, my checks, otherwise I have a problem. When it comes to God reconciling us, the problem for us is that our deposits are actually zero when it come to paying the price of our sins and the checks we have written, our sins, are beyond our imagination. For God to reconcile us means that He has made a deposit of as much as and even greater than our sins. He has reconciled our account by paying the price that our sins cost, death, indeed, eternal spiritual death, hell. He made us right before Himself, forgiving our sins, through Christ.
The fact that we are reconciled by God means that He paid the price for our sins. This is often stated as He made atonement for our sins. To make atonement means that one makes amends or pays the price for another. Christ made atonement for us. He made amends, He paid the price for us. Christ’s atonement was first an objective atonement, that means that His atonement was accomplished outside of us and was for all people. Jesus made amends, paid the price for the sins of all people of all places of all times. This was the goal, the objective in that no one deserves that He did this and even though some have and may refuse His gift of atonement, it was still accomplished for all.
Christ’s atonement was also a subjective atonement, that is it was meant for me. The fact that Jesus died for all is one thing. What makes His death for all important to me is that He died for me, personally. Even if I were the only person in the world, He would have and He did die for me. While He was alive, He had me in mind. When He took the sins of all people on Himself, He had me and my sins in mind. When He suffered on the cross for all sin, He had me in mind. When He died on the cross He had me in mind. He made amends for my sins. He paid the price for my sins.
And so we are recreated. The old is gone. We are no longer what we were before, that is we are no longer only complete lost and condemned sinners, but we are not yet what we will be in heaven, completely and only saints. We are somewhere along the road. While we continue living in this world we live being at the same time sinner and saint.
Thus, Paul reminds us, we regard no one according to the flesh, that is we no longer look at the outside of a person, instead we look into the heart of a person. This is especially true concerning Christ. Before his conversion, Paul viewed Jesus as merely a man. Now that he has been reconciled he knows Jesus as true God and true man, even the Savior of the world and his own Savior.
All this is from God (v. 18) who does all and gives all. Notice, Paul takes himself completely out of the picture. In just the same way we take ourselves completely out of the picture. We have done nothing and we do nothing to reconcile ourselves to God. It has all been taken care of for us by God Himself. He lived the perfect life demanded of us. He took our sins and He paid the price for our sins, all our sins, the ones we have committed and the ones we have yet to commit. He gives us faith. He gives us forgiveness of sin. He gives us life, even eternal life and salvation.
Our response of faith, that is our response for all that our Lord has done for us is that we are ambassadors. Paul says, “20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (v. 20-21). Our response is that we are made ambassadors. An ambassador is one who represents another. We represent Christ. How do we represent Christ? Well, sometimes we represent Him well and other times we misrepresent Him. Anytime we are not living as a reconciled child of God, we misrepresent Him. Anytime we speak ill of this congregation or members of this congregation or anytime we do anything that is not in the best interest of this congregation and the members of this congregation we are misrepresenting Him. Anytime we speak evil of anyone, even if it is the truth, anytime we fail to explain everything in the kindest way possible, we are misrepresenting Him.
It is only as God has His way with us, that is, it is only as the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace works in and through us that we are ambassadors living lives of faith. Again, this is not something we do on our own, this is something we do only as the Lord has His way with us through His means of grace.
Thus, as ambassadors, the most important thing we do is that we speak the Word of God. We speak the Word of God, not of our own, but on His authority. We speak the Word of God as He gives us even fills us with His Word through His means of grace. We speak the Word of God as He moves us. And we are ambassadors as we live lives of faith, that is as our actions speak for and attest to the faith that is in our hearts, the faith that He has given to us and that He nourishes in us. As you have heard me describe before, we are ambassadors as we live our lives as priest, offering our lives as living sacrifices for Lord, always being ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Jesus as our Savior. And we have God’s authority to speak and His promise that when the time comes He will give us the very words He would have us to speak on His behalf.
What Does This Mean? First and foremost this means that we sin, and we need to be reminded of our sin. We daily sin much. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing the things God would have us to do, not living the life He would have us to live, and sins of commission, doing the things He forbids and commands us not to do. We sin and it is our sin that brought Jesus to earth. It was our sin that brought Jesus suffering. It was our sin, your sin and mine, which cost Jesus His life. And so, it is our sin which places us at the foot of the cross. When we look at the cross, that is when we seriously look at the cross, we do not see a pretty fashion statement. We do not see something that is simply a reminder that we are Christians. When we look at the cross we see an instrument of death, even an instrument of pain, suffering and torture. And when we look at the cross we see what great love our Lord has for us, a love that moved Him to actively, without hesitation, take our sins upon Himself and to pay the price, suffering all, even death for us, in our place.
The fact of the matter is that Christ never sinned. He was tempted, even beyond what we may be tempted, beyond what we might think or imagine, yet He never sinned. And although He never sinned, He made Himself sin for us. He took our sins upon Himself. And He paid the price for our sins, for all our sins and for the sins of all people, of all places of all times. He suffered eternal spiritual death, complete and utter separation from God the Father, He suffered hell for us, in our place.
Our response of faith is to live lives of faith. This is not something we do on our own. As a matter of fact, God never expects us to do this on our own. Remember Paul’s words in Ephesians when he tells us that “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are Christ’s ambassadors created by Him, redeemed by Him and now walking as His ambassador being directed by Him.
What a great God we have and what wonderful words from Him through Paul this morning. We are privileged first and foremost to revel in God’s forgiveness earned, paid for and given to us by Christ because of His great love for us. We are privileged to be ambassadors for Christ because He makes us so. As always, God is the prime mover. He does and He gives and we are done to and we are given to. He gives us faith. He takes our sins and gives us forgiveness. He gives us the gift and promise of eternal life in heaven. And while we remain in this world He gives to us the privilege and responsibility to represent Him as His ambassadors. And all this He does out of His great love for us. What a great God, what a loving God we have. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we are looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. We have been looking at the parts of the service somewhat in the order of our service but we have delayed looking at Confession and Absolution until Good Friday and the Lord’s Supper until Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
Last week we moved on in the Divine Service to another of the means of grace that holds prominence in our divine service, the Word of God. We made note that our divine service liturgy is permeated with the Word of God as is noted in our Lutheran Service Book as all the parts of the liturgy are referenced to the Word of God. As one of my favorite professors said, “We worship best when we say back to God the very words that He has given us to say.” He also reminded us that all words are law words until the Lord makes them Gospel words, which should remind us that the only and best Gospel words are not the words of man but the Word of God. This evening we move on in our divine service to respond to the Word of God we were given in the divine service, that Word of God which was read in the readings, the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings and that Word of God we were given in the sermon, that is our response of our confession of our faith in that very Word of God.
I find it amazing that some denominations and congregations do not make use of the creed and some that even say something like “deeds not creed,” as if a creed is something not good. Some denominations and congregations even make it a point to say that they do not have a creed. Actually what they do not realize is that they do have a creed it is just that it is a pretty lousy creed. You see, a creed is simply a profession or confession of faith. Most creeds were written in order to correct any particular heresy that was being proclaimed at the time. Thus, a heresy was making the rounds and so in order to combat the heresy with what God truly says, a statement of God’s Word, a statement of faith was formulated. The Christian Church, that is all churches that profess to be Christian, recognize and confess three main creeds, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. Any church, such as the Mormon church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and any other religion cannot truly confess these creeds. Any church or congregation professing to be a Christian church can and does profess these creeds because these creeds are a summary of what we believe, teach and confess according to Holy Scripture.
When we confess our faith, as we do in the Apostles’ Creed, we confess our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We confess: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” We confess individually, “I” because we cannot believe nor confess for someone or anyone else. Everyone must believe for themself. When we make our confession we need to realize that we are not making any confession from within ourselves, as Jesus told Peter when He confessed that Jesus was the Christ, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). So too is our confession, not by flesh and blood, but by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace.
So our confession is a response to God’s Word which we just heard read and expounded on in the sermon and which as we said last week is a word which has power and does and gives what it says. It is through God’s Word that the Holy Spirit works to give faith when and where He pleases and it is through that same word that the Holy Spirit stirs in us to confess that faith which He has imputed to us, given to us. Notice how we keep pointing to Jesus?
And so, briefly, we confess faith in God the Father, the Creator and Preserver of all creation. We confess that we believe that God created the world, just as He tells us in His Word. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. God created all things that exist out of nothing so that everything that is seen has been called into existence by God. God also created time for us, on the first day, and on the fourth day He created the Sun, moon and stars and set them into motion according to the time He created on day one. Yet, not only has God created all things, but He is still taking care of all things. Indeed, according to His promise the oceans will remain in their boundaries until the day He returns. And here again I would reiterate when man posses theories which contradict what God says, even if those theories are quite convincing, because I know that human beings often get things wrong, I will believe what God has said and that humans need to go back and recheck their facts because they got something wrong.
We confess faith in God the Father, and in God the Son, the Redeemer. It was God who promised way back in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, immediately after Adam and Eve sinned and brought the curse that God promised to take care of their sin and our sin. God promised to send a Messiah, a Savior, even a Christ, thus the Christian Church was born. God’s promise was that He would send someone who would redeem us, that is trade His life for ours, thus when Jesus was born, as we confess, He was conceived and born in perfection, having been conceived by God Himself. He lived a perfect life for us in our place because we cannot. He obeyed all God’s commands perfectly. He fulfilled all Scripture concerning the Messiah, perfectly. He took all our sins and all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself and suffered and paid the price for those sins, and all sins, the price of shedding blood, the price of death, eternal spiritual death and physical, temporal death. He died. Our God in Jesus died. But death and the grave had no hold over Him as He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. He showed Himself to be alive for forty days before ascending back to heaven where He is continually watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us.
We confess faith in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, that is the one who makes us and keeps us holy. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to give us faith which He does through the means of Holy Baptism and His Word. It is His work to strengthen and keep us in faith which He does through the means of Confession and Absolution, our remembering our Baptism, reading and hearing His Holy Word, and His Holy Supper where in we eat His body and drink His blood thus participating in His life, death and resurrection. We do not hear about the Holy Spirit because He is doing His job, not pointing to Himself, but pointing to Jesus.
Probably the most difficulty we have in our confession of faith is the fact that we may not be able to completely and reasonably articulate the Holy Trinity. Even though we profess faith in these three persons in one Godhead, even though we talk about each individual person of the trinity, the fact is the trinity is undivided so that where the Father is, there is the Son and the Spirit. Where the Son is there is the Father and the Spirit and where the Spirit is there is the Father and the Son. And so we profess what God gives us to profess, nothing more and nothing less for to do so would be un-advantageous on our own part.
So, just as the children of Israel professed faith in God and the promise of the coming Messiah through their offering of sacrifices as well as their obedience to the ceremonial law, which all pointed to Jesus, so we profess the same faith, not looking forward but looking back at Jesus who fulfilled all things for us. The creed is important because it is a statement of what we believe and what we believe separates us from those who believe something else. And the creed focuses on and helps us to focus on Jesus, just Jesus. Thus we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.